Leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Argentina have been detained for allegedly smuggling some $15,000,000 Argentine Pesos ($991,000 USD) worth of goods into the country. A sting operation ordered by federal judge Adrián González Charvay targeted eight locations, apprehending six suspects, including leaders from the Argentina Union Conference.
According to a report in La Nación, Argentina’s leading conservative daily newspaper, crates came into Argentina from the United States said to be containing donated medical equipment and hand tools. Customs authorities instead discovered millions of Pesos worth of modern televisions, computers, tablets, smartphones, professional film equipment, music consoles and drones.
Judge González Charvay, who presided over a two-month investigation of the contraband, ordered an appraisal of the smuggled goods. Experts who examined the containers found expired hospital supplies in poor condition (some used and possibly infectious) along with undeclared electronic merchandise totaling an estimated fifteen million Pesos. The smuggled goods represented a value of some $6,000,000 Pesos ($396,400 USD) in unpaid import fees.
Screen capture from Argentine news broadcast. The headline reads, "raids on the Adventist Church: Donations from the USA Investigated."
On Thursday detectives from the Federal Crimes Department of the Argentine Federal Police conducted eight raids and apprehended six individuals, including as yet unnamed leaders of the Adventist Church in Argentina. The Argentina Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was the named recipient of the shipment, according to media reports.
Spectrum received an anonymous tip on August 10 about the Adventist Church’s involvement in international smuggling. An email from firstname.lastname@example.org, signed by “John Doe” provided the following:
Dear Mr. Wright,
I am writing to you regarding something that is going on at River Plate Adventist University (UAP, in Spanish), the Adventist Church's university in Argentina. For years, UAP's authorities (the president, and two or three of his closest collaborators) have been engaged in smuggling on behalf of the university. The procedure is simple: they import some real donations from the U.S., but in the same container they add purchases that get into the country without paying taxes (which are quite expensive here). Over the last years, they have become more and more daring. Most recently, the CIO of the university (a systems engineer) travelled to the US for a couple of weeks just to buy electronic goods. All of this might have been just anecdotal amid a generally corrupt environment (both inside and outside the church), if the media had not come accross this story. A few days ago one container coming from the U.S. was intercepted by Argentine custom officials. It supposedly contained donations, but inside the container there were all kind of products (mainly electronics) valued at about 400.000 USD.
The information provided in that email and subsequent correspondence from the same source correlated with initial reports of contraband seizure, published in La Nacion, but could not be independently verified by Spectrum. There was nothing in media reports confirming the involvement of the Seventh-day Adventist Church until today.
When asked whether there were documentation of the involvement of personnel at River Plate Adventist University with the Argentina Adventist Union, “John Doe” stated,
“There are no emails related to the issue; at least none that I have seen. The Argentine Conference's (Unión Argentina, UA) order to the UAP leaders was to keep a strict public silence regarding the issue.”
Later, in response to questions about which leaders might be involved, John Doe wrote the following:
Despite some information shared with the college's government bodies, the importat operations were managed by a small group of people. The university president, Oscar Ramos, is the main (and in many cases, the only) decision maker. Nothing is done without his knowledge and approval. He takes this issue under his personal care. Jorge De Sousa is the Vice President for Institutional Development. He is in charge of fundraising. Therefore, he spends several months every year in the U.S., he gets the donations, and he is the responsible for bringing them into Argentina. Nestor Pereyra is the university CIO, and one of the closer advisors of President Ramos, even in matters beyond IT. He makes decisions concerning technology purchasing, and in the particular case of the containers, he traveled to the U.S. for a couple of weeks to buy technology items. Then those items were loaded into the containers and introduced to the country as donations. Now, as they manage this issue with secrecy, is difficult to know what is the specific participation of each one in the case. On the other hand, the importation were made using the name of the Church's legal entity in Argentina (Asociación Argentina de los Adventistas del Séptimo Día, AAASD), and not the university's legal entity (Asociación Colegio Adventista del Plata, ACAP). So the person legally responsible is the president of AAASD, Pastor Carlos Gill. I have no way of knowing how much President Gill knew about this. Of course he is now aware of everything.
Those claims concerning potential complicity have not been independently verified; no names of Adventist leaders have been reported as of this article's publication.
Late Thursday, the Argentina Union Conference issued a press release on Facebook with the text, “Official Communiqué of the Adventist Church in Argentina,” denying any wrongdoing:
Press Release In relation to the facts that are public knowledge, the Argentina Association of Seventh-day Adventists (AAASD) said that its executives will be present before the judge in charge of the investigation in the next few hours. There actually exists a donation from the Adventist Church in the United States. Our entity is entitled to a court case and its managers and employees have attended and participated in the preliminary evidence gathering jointly with customs personnel. The unexpected judicial measure became impossible, as they were at the time of the procedures in their respective administrative offices, for their usual routines locked outside the office.
The donation included a wide variety of items, whose diversity pertains to its use in The River Plate Adventist University for training students from various departments which integrate those items--particularly in the department of health sciences, with careers such as medicine and others.
Concerning our commitment to receiving the contents, it was in accordance with a letter that in no way falls outside the laws for imports or any other activity. For these reasons, at present we are primarily interested in collaborating with the justice system to clarify this situation.
We will supply more information to the media and the public here as necessary.
Contact: Mr. Santiago Lopez Blasco - Director of Communication. (Translated from Spanish)
This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates as the story unfolds.
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
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